Baltimore Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr. has some thoughts on how to spice up baseball’s All-Star Game, and they include Major League Baseball borrowing a page from the NBA and NHL.
“I always liked the skills challenge concept and idea,” said Ripken, who played in 18 Midsummer Classics during his Hall of Fame career. “I know I participated in a few of them early, when we had the relay-throwing contest, and I think they had the fastest around the bases. . . . It’s interesting to know who’s the fastest to first, or who’s the fastest in a split.”
Speaking at MLB’s FanFest on Tuesday as he prepared for an entirely different sort of skills competition — a Snapple-sponsored bottle-flipping challenge against fellow former major leaguer Cliff Floyd — Ripken recalled participating in the relay-throwing contest and watching Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Damaso Garcia win the fastest-player challenge at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park before the 1984 All-Star Game.
Baseball’s all-star skills competition didn’t receive much attention from the media in those days, but The Post’s Richard Justice documented the exhibition the day before the 1989 All-Star Game at Anaheim Stadium:
“In today’s workout, the NL all-stars won the skills competition for catcher’s throwing accuracy, throwing relay accuracy and the home run derby. Tony Pena of the Cardinals and Benito Santiago of the Padres won the catcher’s throw accuracy over Terry Steinbach of the Athletics and Mickey Tettleton of the Orioles. The relay throw competition was tied after the first two runs, but a one-throw playoff was won by the NL trio of Andre Dawson, Ryne Sandberg and Mike Scioscia. They beat Mike Greenwell, Julio Franco and Tettleton.”
Not mentioned in Justice’s dispatch: Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin tore a ligament in his right elbow during the relay-throwing competition, which caused him to miss two months.
“I heard a pop off in the distance like a gun shot had gone off,” Larkin told the Cincinnati Enquirer in 2015. “I was like something is going on here. Then I realized it was my elbow. That wasn’t good.”
The skills competition was discontinued.
“Now the issue always is, are you risking injury by doing something like that, but I think if you gave some creative thought to some of the skills, I think the fans would be interested,” Ripken said.
SB Nation’s Grant Brisbee proposed some ideas for an all-star skills challenge should the concept be revived, the best of which is the pitcher’s Home Run Derby. How great would it be to see the likes of Madison Bumgarner and Max Scherzer swing for the fences?
The (hitter’s) Home Run Derby is the extent of baseball’s skills competition at the All-Star Game these days, and Ripken knows the competition well. In 1985, he participated in the first modern-day derby and finished with one home run at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. Six years later, he won the Home Run Derby at the SkyDome in Toronto with 12 dingers, a record at the time.
“I was just trying to take regular [batting practice] because I was hitting pretty good at the time,” Ripken said Tuesday said of his approach in Toronto. “I didn’t want to mess my swing up. Balls just kept flying out there pretty easy, so you can get on a roll.”
When Ripken participated in the Home Run Derby, hitters had 10 “outs” to hit as many home runs as they could. Any ball that didn’t clear the fence was considered an out. The Home Run Derby’s format has evolved over the years to include multiple rounds, a timer and a reward for hitting especially long home runs.
“It’s way more exciting when you put a clock on it,” Ripken said. “It’s more action-oriented. I think the clock is a really good addition, and the bonus balls and stuff like that. It’s fun to watch, and I’m sad I missed it [Monday] night.”
(Ripken was at another promotional event Monday and learned that Bryce Harper won the Home Run Derby via an alert on his phone, so he couldn’t comment on the allegations, primarily from Cubs fans, that Harper and his dad cheated to beat Kyle Schwarber in the final round.)
Ripken, who lost his first bottle-flipping challenge to Floyd, also weighed in on the pressure and scrutiny that Harper and soon-to-be-former Orioles third baseman Manny Machado face given the uncertainties about their futures. Baltimore was expected to finalize a deal to send Machado to the Dodgers on Wednesday, while Harper is set to become a free agent after the season.
“Sometimes the uncertainty of what’s going to happen at the end of your time can figure into your day-to-day and rob you of your focus, or make you try harder,” Ripken said. “[The Orioles] fired my dad in ’88, and I was a free agent at the end of that year, too. They just assumed that I wouldn’t sign back, so they were taking all kinds of trade offers. It was the most unsettling time in my life.”
Ripken signed a three-year, $6 million deal in late July of that season, which provided him some peace of mind.
“Some players deal with it differently and better than others,” Ripken said. “I know it bothered me not to have any certainty of where I was going to go.”
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